The Buffalo Sabres centre had a goal and four assists and was named MVP, taking home a brand-new Dodge Nitro after recording the second-highest point total in all-star game history. Not bad for a guy who was somewhat of an afterthought as the third forward voted to start alongside Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin for the Eastern Conference all-stars.
“For me it was just exciting to be on the same starting line as those two great young players, the face of the NHL,” said Briere. “Even if other people called me ‘the other guy’ on that line it was fine with me. …
“Listen, I’ve come a long way. I was once waived a few years ago and nobody even picked me up. This night is very special.”
Briere was waived by the Phoenix Coyotes in 2001. No other NHL club thought to pick him up at the time.
Briere’s Eastern Conference team lost 12-9 to the Western Conference, but this event is never about who won or lost. In fact, Briere is the fourth consecutive all-star MVP from the losing team.
After taking the obligatory opening shift with his more celebrated linemates, Briere was shuffled to a new line with Marian Hossa and Dany Heatley. Briere rekindled the magic he first found alongside Heatley with Team Canada at the 2003 and 2004 IIHF world championships, opening the scoring 3:38 into the game on a nice backdoor play after a cross-crease pass by Heatley.
“It’s really hard to explain but whenever we’ve played together we always have a real nice connection,” Briere said of his chemistry with Heatley.
Yanic Perreault and Brian Rolston also looked like regular linemates, scoring two goals apiece for the West. Their makeshift checking line with Bill Guerin also performed defensively, shutting down Crosby’s line.
“When you’re playing against two great young stars like that you just hope you don’t embarrass yourself,” said Perreault.
The much-anticipated magic show of Crosby and Ovechkin never materialized, as the two second-year dynamos didn’t seem to click playing together for the first time. There was little chemistry in their play and some passes seemed forced as both players tried to set up the other on a line with old goat Brendan Shanahan.
“That’s usually what happens in your first all-star game,” said Shanahan. “Most young guys come in here and they overpass.”
The 19-year-old Crosby was pointless in his first career all-star game, not a first by any means. A 19-year-old Wayne Gretzky was also shut out in his first all-star game in 1980. Will the comparisons never cease?
“That definitely makes me feel a little better,” Crosby said with a laugh. “Maybe I’ll sleep easier tonight. But it would be nice to get one eventually.”
There’ll be plenty more all-star games for Sid the Kid.
Ovechkin did score a goal, the Washington Capitals winger flipping in a rebound past Calgary Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff at 13:32 of the second period while overextending his shift and Crosby already on the bench.
Rick Nash and Martin Havlat also had two goals apiece while Dion Phaneuf, Patrick Marleau, Teemu Selanne and Lubomir Visnovsky also scored for the Western Conference, which avenged a 6-4 loss to the Eastern Conference in the last all-star game, February 2004 in Minnesota.
Veteran Joe Sakic, the 2004 all-star game MVP, had four assists to set the all-time all-star record for assists at 16, moving past Mark Messier’s 14. His 22 career points are only three behind Gretzky for the all-time lead.
Zdeno Chara had a pair while Heatley, Sheldon Souray, Justin Williams, Martin St. Louis and Eric Staal also scored for the Eastern Conference, which led 5-4 in the second period before the West blew it open with four straight goals.
Briere’s five points are the most since Heatley turned the same trick at the 2003 all-star game in Vancouver while also winning MVP honours. Mario Lemieux has the record with six points at the 1988 game.
New Jersey Devils netminder Martin Brodeur was victimized for six second-period goals but made the save of the game, an acrobatic glove grab on San Jose Sharks winger Jonathan Cheechoo.
As all-star games go, this one wasn’t too bad at all. It was a no-hitter as usual – defenceman Tomas Kaberle stepped out of the way to let Joe Thornton skate by in the first period instead of rubbing him out along the boards – but there were plenty of nice set-ups and big saves. The players were actually skating hard unlike the YoungStars Game the previous night.
“It was fast, guys competed hard for an all-star game,” said Crosby.
Nash’s first goal 10:40 into the second period was the goal of the night, the Columbus Blue Jackets winger bursting through the middle of the zone and around defenceman Brian Campbell before using his reach to deke around Brodeur.
Notes: The 21 goals was the third-highest total in all-star game history, trailing the 26 in 2001 at Denver and 22 in 1993 at Montreal. Mike Leggo of North Bay, Ont., and Greg Kimmerly of Toronto were the referees. . . . Grammy-nominated country duo The Wreckers performed the U.S. anthem while vocalist Giorgia Fumanti did a stirring rendition of ‘O Canada’. Unfortunately she also spilled to the ice on her way out. . . . Ovechkin was wearing a new Oakley visor which appeared darker than what he was using this season. . . . At least one former Quebec Major Junior Hockey League netminder has appeared in each and every NHL all-star game since 1986, Brodeur and Luongo continuing that tradition Wednesday night. . . . Next year’s all-star game goes in Atlanta and will also be a mid-week event. . . . Former Dallas Cowboy Daryl (Moose) Johnston was on hand.